OQO model e2 with HSDPA

My review of this is up at Tom's Hardware.The latest ultramobile PC from OQO really is ultramobile rather than just ultraportable. Not only does it pack a decent processor, 1GB of memory, an 80 or 120GB hard drive and a 5” screen into a 1 pound form factor, the OQO model e2 also has built-in HSDPA connectivity as well as 802.11a, b and g versions of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Differences in HSDPA - and the difficulty of getting devices approved for connection to U.S. cellular networks - means the e2 is only available in Europe and Asia at the moment. Yet, the device offers a tantalizing hint of mobile PCs to come.

In short, pricey but nice if you need the portability. There are some questions on the review page and I can't seem to post a reply there at the moment, so here are some extra details for those readers. Also, the final edit suggests the e2 is smaller than an HTC TyTan - that should read "half as big again as a chunky Windows Mobile device like the HTC TyTan" or 1 e2 = 1.5 TyTans.

There were questions about how the e2 and Eee PC compare. I'm answering those, but I'll also explain why they're not comparable - and it's not just price.

I've looked at both the OQO model 2e and the Asus Eee PC and the e2's performance, screen quality and usability when surfing are all far superior to the Eee PC. As I said in the review, the screen quality is superb. Vista performance is no problem with enough memory in* and this machine was able to deliver enough power for image editing plus running five or six business applications at the same time without noticing any slowdown at all. Watching video with Sling or decoding DiVX video files are both quite demanding and the e2 performed excellently at both. That's about the limit of what it would be useful to do on a machine with a screen this size; you wouldn't spend this much money on a device for playing games and I don't think many people would be doing video encoding or other more demanding tasks on this size of screen. For what it's sensible to do on a machine this size, performance is impressive.

I'm impressed by the keyboard compared to anything except a real notebook keyboard - and if you want to type without a table a real notebook keyboard doesn't always prove the best thing anyway. It's the secondary keys that matter as much as the QWERTY keys. The @ key is needed so much these days that OQO promotes it to a function on the apostrophe key (next to P). The euro, yen, backslash and similar symbols are functions on the other keys, along with volume and brightness controls and the keyboard light. Not everything is where you expect it to be - but it all makes sense where it is.

Not everyone wants a tablet and a thumb-sized keyboard - but not everyone wants a miniature notebook form factor either. That means I was looking at the e2 compared to the whole range of ultraportable devices I've evaluated, not just the Eee PC - they are quite different beasts and not only because of the price tag. I don't think that they're equivalent or that the same person would want both.

Do I think the e2 is expensive? Yes.
Are there people for whom it will be good value anyway? Yes.
Are you one of them? Not if you're going to say the Eee PC is better value and you're happy with the compromises it makes. (I'm not implying you are wrong about the Eee PC; I am implying the e2 is wrong for you)
Am I one of them? Borderline - but since the Motion LS800 which I consider the closest alternative is no longer available and I want to be able to write on screen on something that fits next to my plate at lunch, the e2 is attractive. For me personally the HSDPA connection is a luxury anyway, but a very convenient one. Like the vast majority of cars and consumer electronics, not everyone needs luxury but a lot of people want it.

Time to get online depends on the method you use to connect more than the PC. Over wi-fi, the e2 is pretty much the same as the Eee with Windows XP or Linux, allowing for the fact that the e2 is a more responsive machine. I didn't test the Eee PC with HSDPA because it doesn't come with connectivity built in and it doesn't have a PC Card or Express Card slot for my HSDPA cards, but again, the speed limitation is down to the available bandwidth in the network more than the PC you use - if the network has sufficient backhaul and the cell isn't full of other users, you get a DSL-like experience. HSDPA has a connection time longer than most wi-fi hotspots but that doesn't vary much between devices; I did mention that the HSDPA software on the e2 is also the best I've tried - better than the equivalents from Vodafone or Toshiba, for instance.

Screen size and surfing; again, the higher screen resolution of the e2 and the better screen give a better experience. I talk in the review about how you can scroll down with the finger-touch capacitive scrollbars without opening the keyboard - the Eee PC doesn't have the tablet format so you can't as easily hold it in your hands, you don't see as much of a Web page on screen and the screen quality of the Eee PC is nowhere near as good as the e2 (or an ultraportable Sony for that matter). With either machine you have a full PC browser so there are none of the compromises you make on a smartphone.

One reader comment asked why this got a good review - or rather suggested that my review wasn't entirely independent. I trust I don't need to say to anyone who knows me that my opinions are independent and have been for the nearly 18 years I've been writing about technology. This isn't a positive review because of the opinions of the supplier; this is a positive review because if you need something this portable and you have the budget for the e2, you'll have a good experience using it. Hope that answers some of the reader questions.

* I'm happy to discuss Vista performance. I'll discuss it with people who have used Vista and who can provide the specification on the machine they used and the figures for the performance they're not happy with. I'll agree with anyone who says Vista file copying and related operations are absurdly slow; in a couple of days I'll have an opinion on whether SP2 fixes that. I'll agree that Vista needs a lot of RAM; I use 2 or 3Gb on my machines and get excellent performance - memory is cheap enough that I'd not consider that an extreme amount. A 4200RPM hard drive is also a bottleneck and I plan to replace that on my Toshiba R400 ASAP to improve performance. I'll agree that 2007 Office is slower than it should be. Other than that, I find no problems with Vista performance personally.

A 5" screen with an active digitiser, a slide-out keyboard, built-in 3G and Bluetooth and a nice big hard drive: full details here. I'd call it a real UMPC...

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